Puerto Vallarta Expanded
Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor put it on the map. Now gay American expatriates are forging a new life in Vallarta.
by Jennye Garibaldi | Photos by Aaron Cobbett
"The show will start a little late tonight. You know drag queens." My husband Aaron and I are told this as we're ushered over to a couple barstools in the Kit Kat Club. We're waiting for Sally Bowles to make her grand entrance. This isn't Berlin, it's Puerto Vallarta, a seemingly unlikely place for Cabaret. But the crowd is 98% gay men, so if the boys want Liza, Liza they shall receive.
The Kit Kat is situated on the older, south end of town on a cobblestone street that is shared by several other like-minded businesses. Since we're now on drag queen time, we decide to take advantage of her tardiness and check out the competition two doors down, Garbo.
The sign in front looked promising. Deco, sleek, and simple. The bar delivered as much, with its long booths, swanky bar and a piano on the far stage. We ordered two pricey mojitos and settled in. Garbo seems to attract older locals. Sugar daddies and their Mexican boy toys sip exotic martinis at the bar. Mariah and Celine ballads cascade from the speakers. Aaron, of course, remained unfazedat times like these he typically smiles, content in the knowledge that he's married the West Coast's reigning fag hag. Not to mention he's earned his own gay stripes working for Colt the past five years. Though the AC was comfortably washing over us, we had to hightail it from the cigar smoke back to the Kit Kat.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. So maybe they weren't bellowing the Cheers theme song, but I sure felt like Norm as we reentered the Kit Kat. The manager, Pablo Ruiz, kissed me on the cheek and warmly shook my husband's hand. "Welcome home!" He seated us once again at the bar, and leaned in to whisper to me, "You're going to love this performance." In a flurry of fishnets, the drag act exploded onto the floor, accompanied by the strains of Mein Heir. The boys went wild, and any symptoms of my homesickness for San Francisco quickly dissipated. I was falling in love with gay Puerto Vallarta.
Located in the Pacific state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta has more than 350,000 residents, 6,500 American expatriates and 2 million-plus visitors annually. This once-conservative city has become somewhat of a Castro South in recent years. Comparisons are often drawn between San Francisco and "PV": the hilly landscape, the quaint shops, raging nightclubs, sophisticated restaurants, and now, a thriving gay community. In the 1990s, bars and other gay-owned businesses cropped up on the "South Side", an area known as Zona Romantica. Today there are more than 40 gay businesses in the city.
Unlike most of closeted and heavily Catholic Mexico, PV is amazingly open and tolerant, in part due to gay foreign influenc both tourists and new residents, especially from the U.S. There are other gay hot spots in Mexico more gay Mexicans vacation in Acapulco. And Mexico City has passed a same-sex civil unions law, the first in the country. But the presence of gay life seems more pronounced in PV, this "big little city".
The gay beaches at Playa Los Muertos, known as "Blue Chairs" and neighboring "Green Chairs," both named for their signature color chaises, fly rainbow flags. Mexican and Americano gays happily lounge in Speedos, with no sense of hiding. There's also the lesser-known beach in front of (now closed) guesthouse Paco's Paradise, 12 miles south. PV offers a range of gay lodgings, from villas to hotels to B&Bs, some even clothing optional a rarity in most of Latin America.
Malecón, the town's main waterfront street, presents sculptures in an outdoor palm-lined art walk. Galleries outnumber churches in Puerto Vallarta.
More modern hotel and shopping areas have arisen north and south of the old town, allowing the area to retain a lot of its colonial charm. Malecón (the town's main waterfront street) presents sculptures in an outdoor palm-lined art walk, and galleries outnumber churches, making it true art town. With the mountains behind, the Pacific in Front, it's one of the more scenic resort destinations in sometimes overbuilt Mexico.